Believing is seeing for Padraig Harrington

Pádraig Harrington watches a drive during the first round in Miami. Picture: Fran Caffrey/www.golffile.ieEven without glasses, Pádraig Harrington can see the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.

More than three and a half years after the most recent of his three major wins, the Dubliner continues to believe that he is close, maybe closer than ever before, to putting the whole package together and winning big again.

“Look, I’d have told you I was closing in on something last year because I hit the ball great,” he said after an opening 76 in the WGC-Cadillac Championship, his first competitive round wearing spectacles . “This year I’m hitting the ball even better. I’m happier reading the greens the way I did today. It’s very close to being what I want.”

The question is, why would a 41-year old man with 20-20 vision want to wear glasses on the golf course? If he can see perfectly without them, what’s the benefit?

The answer lies in the way Harrington’s eyes ‘see’ things. As a child he had a tendency to over-read every putt “a fraction” right to left. But over the course time and four laser surgeries, his eyes have changed and he now sees things with a left to right bias.

Like Ernie Els, who took steps to work on his vision last year and won his fourth major and second Claret Jug at Royal Lytham last July, Harrington started to work with Belfast based sports vision company SV:EYE at the end of last year.

“I’m perfectly fine in terms of what I can see,” he said. “These [glasses] make it better, but really I have astigmatism like a lot of people.  I grew up with a bias to reading putts right to left, so if I saw an eight‑foot putt that was straight, as a kid, I’d aim right half.  That’s where I would see it.

“For the last number of years, if I saw that same eight‑footer, I’d actually look at it left half. Now, that’s just how my eyes have changed.”

When a golfer doubts the lines he see, he is not going to hole many putts and Harrington looks back in some frustration at 2012 when he finished eighth in the Masters and fourth in the US Open without putting well.

“I needed to do something, and then there was a group based in Northern Ireland who came to my attention, and obviously being closer to home, they were easier to work with,” he explained earlier this year. “I’ve read books on it and looked at it, but it’s easier when you have somebody else organizing it for you and managing it.”

The glasses make his 20-20 vision 20-10 but he still has problems marrying what his instincts and his eyes are telling him and is currently on his fifth set of glasses.

“I’ve no problem without them,” he said at Doral.  “I’ve 20-20 vision without glasses. I’ve 20-10 with them, it just corrects my stigmatism.”

Depth perception is a minor problem with “certain shots under trees because everything looks that bit closer”, he said. “I hit one shot from the trees over the green because it was a perception issue.”

Getting the right pair of glasses is the issue and he’s now on his fifth pair in the last four months.

“There’ll always be another pair of glasses that I’ll get spot-on. I’ll wear these again. I’m happy with them. These are the fifth pair I’ve had since December. It’s nearly there.”

Harrington holed just two putts of significance in his opening 76 but blamed his pace more than his green-reading for a round lacking in momentum.”

“I’ve gone a good few years where the gap between what I see and what my instincts tell me creates doubt and makes me tentative,” he explained. “I can read the greens instinctively because I know what the greens are doing but I’d like to see it as well.
 
“I’d like my vision to match up with my instincts. I’ve been struggling with that for a while but with these glasses it’s pretty close.”

A question of not believing his eyes?
 
“My eyes are wrong,” he said. “I believe my instincts before my eyes. I could read every green without bending down to look at it but you’d need to be a hard man to do that.”

Harrington was a brilliant green-reader for playing partner Ross Fisher in the 2010 Ryder Cup win at Celtic Manor.

“the difference is I tell him the line and I’d believe it,” Harrington said. “I’d tell myself the same line and I’m not believing it because my instincts are telling me one thing, my eyes are telling me the other, so every line I pick is in my head is an average of the two.
 
“When you tell somebody else, he doesn’t know it’s an average of the two. He just thinks it’s the line and putts accordingly. I’m reading them right but I’m not trusting them.”

He has another three events before the Masters and will head from Miami to Asia on Sunday for the Thailand and Malaysian national Opens before returning to the US the week before Augusta for the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio.

When he drives up Magnolia Lane this year he will have played 10 events since January - two more than ever before in the run up to the season’s first major - and he’s happy that he will be ready.
 
“I often get to the Masters and think I need to play more,” he said. “I’m very happy that I’m playing this and another three events before the Masters.
 
“There’s no doubt I need to be out on the golf course more than I do on the range, that’s for sure. What’s not right about my game is going to be found more on the course than anywhere else. I’m happy with the schedule I’ve set, that’s for sure.”
 
Getting his glasses spot on is an objective over the next months.
 
“My eyes are a lot better with these,” he said, fingering the end pieces. “The thing in these is going to be moved up a bit more, it’s too far down, so it gets a little lower on my face. I’m happy that by the Masters it should be fine.”

Physically bigger than ever, Harrington jokes about his new, meatier frame and his quest for extra distance off the tee.

“It is the eat for yards programme,” he said of his heavier frame.
 
The physical difference is there for all to see. Harrington is just hoping he can trust what he sees when he stands over a putt at Augusta National.